As a visionary and creative professional, “Black Panther” truly inspired me.
But as a historian and benefactor of the black struggle for liberation, the movie left me shocked and hurt.
Yes Wakanda’s culture and people were on and popping! But the movie’s neocolonial politics killed the true spirit of the Black Panther, and anyone hoping for a refreshing and futuristic road map to black liberation.
Rather than giving us hope, “Black Panther” engaged in perverse colonial fantasy, telling America it can come in Africa and take whatever it wants with no measures of accountability. The movie outright slights the main argument of its original comic, which challenged the West, not acquiesced to its agenda.
As King T’Chaka of the comic says, “[Our resources] are not for sale until the spiritual advancement of the West catches up to its technological prowess. It would be irresponsible to share our scientific discoveries with you.”
Listen to the King’s vehement stance in this eye-opening video.
Yet and still, the movie markets a colonial fantasy that is enabled by the movie’s flagrant historical and political amnesia, forcing movie-goers to settle for this screen-deep progress.
Here are the top 3 myths that really hurt black people and the true purpose of the Marvel comic, which originally put in check the reckless power of Western greed.
Myth 1: Africans Are Insensitive To The Black-American Struggle
Truth: Africans Are Partners In Black Liberation
Forget the centuries of vigorous unity between Black Americans and African dignitaries. “Black Panther” would have you think that our African brothers and sisters completely dismiss revolutionary Black Americans and the struggle for universal freedom.
But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
After all, it was unity not political animus that led Ghana’s first independent president Kwame Nkruma to open his country to WEB Du Bois, the American father of Pan Africanism, who become a naturalized citizen of Ghana in 1963.
That’s right, it was Black American and African love, not division, that led revolutionary Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti to fall for Sandra Isadore, the African-American woman who introduced Fela to Malcolm X and Angela Davis.
And yes! It was Africa’s belief in Martin Luther King’s dream that made King the most heralded American by all of Africa’s independence presidents.
This legacy of unity is well known to me, as I was born to and raised by a Nigerian man and a Black American woman. But my case is not unique. Many Africans have reclaimed their kinship with Black Americans, making it possible for people like me to return to the motherland and unite with my cousins with pride and dignity.
But despite this strong unity, Panther’s super-villain Erik Killmonger is the only voice standing in for Me, Du Bois, Isadore, and Martin. For Malcolm, Garvey and Heuy. Rather than celebrating Erik’s understandable audacity, the movie invalidates black rage by defeating Erik, and forcing him to commit revolutionary suicide rather than advancing his people.
But black rage – that accumulation of systematic oppression, denial and social subjugation – has been and continues to be the precipitous force behind American democratic change, whether we’re talking about the women’s rights movement, the voting rights movement, or civil rights as we know it. Our struggle for equality – not domination – just mere equality – has benefited all people, especially other people of color as they gain privilege formerly denied to all people except for white men. It was black rage that initiated these movements, and the America that dares to stand as the bastion of democracy and diversity. The super-villain’s rage came from a valid place and necessitated a valid voice in the royal court of Wakanda. Erik dared to put Wakanda on trial for abandoning its native son in America, much like the ancient Africans who bartered their people into slavery in exchange for goods and guns.
To oppose Erik’s voice is to suggest that the only people entitled to control the weapons of war and peace are white people and their African colonial concubines, the movie tells us. Only white men and allied African nobility can fight for their independence.
Not only does this message silence the freedom struggle, it dismisses the real role American descendants of African kings and queens can play in building Africa. Americans like Peggielene Bartel come to mind. She is the black woman from D.C. who Ghana invited to return to Africa in 2008 after realizing she was the sole heir to the kingdom of Otuam. Since then, King Peggy has raised funds and is planning to build a high school and sustainable fishing community for the village of 8,000.
What Panther fails to realize is that all black people are one. And to kill off the most scorned element – that is, the descendant of slaves – is to destroy the driving force of change. And that’s a slap in the face, considering African Americans taught the world how to be free. To cast us as the villain, rather than the white colonizers, is simply wrong and hurtful.
Movie critic Christopher Lebron in Boston echos this fact. In his article “Black Panther Is Not The Movie We Deserve,” he writes:
Even in a comic-book movie, black American men are relegated to the lowest rung of political regard. So low that the sole white leading character in the movie, the CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), gets to be a hero who helps save Wakanda. A white man who trades in secrets and deception is given a better turn than a black man whose father was murdered by his own family and who is left by family and nation to languish in poverty. That’s racist.
Myth 2: America is a savior to Africa
Truth: America is a colonizer of Africa
Now I love my Americaness like anybody else. I was born here, and intend on doing all I can do support and contribute positively to this great country. But I can’t for once follow Panther’s incongruous plot which props up the American Agent Ross as a trustworthy source for defending Wakanda’s interest and overseeing the sharing of its precious Vibranium. When it comes to Africa, America has only been a colonizer, history tells us – either by force, or by seemingly benevolent policy.
From America’s stake in the dehumanizing diamond trade and apartheid in South Africa, to U.S.-assisted rebel forces ransacking the hinterland of Sudan, America has besieged Africa with human rights violations. Most recently, the US established AFRICOM, a robust military command launched ironically by President Obama. Experts have called it the West’s second ‘scramble for Africa,’ as it divides the the continent into US-backed territories and their enemies, causing war and laying open Africa’s oil and minerals for further exploitation, reports AlJazeera.
This is exactly what we see in Wakanda. While the natives fight each other, Agent Ross eyes the precious resources, waiting for his moment to play hero and gain the trust of the natives. Like this, “Black Panther” hides its divide-and-conquer colonialist agenda by flaunting American support in the faux fur of global advancement.
Myth 3: Black Feminism Is A Thing Of The Future
Truth: Black Feminism Is As Old As Time
I absolutely went coo-coo over the breath-taking female warriors of Wakanda. But if Hollywood only portrays women warriors in the context of futurism, then we forget that these powerful models of femininity have long existed across Africa for millennia.
Whether we’re talking about Angola’s Queen of Sheeba or the Ahosi of Dahomey, black feminism is not a new wave. More important is the fact that Africa’s most ferocious female regiments were routinely wiped out by the colonists during the 1800s.
Sadly, Wakanda is only mildly aware of this fact, and therefore propagates a delusional feminist fantasy rather than offering women and black people a solution to enduring neocolonial ambitions.
Even worse, “Black Panther” failed to reveal the African American mother of Erik the villain, rendering her obsolete, and therefore erasing the vital role of Black American women in raising strong Black men. If it weren’t for black women like Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, let alone enjoying the freedom of going to see “Black Panther” to hitch our black pride to.
My friends, I say this not to burst Wakanda’s bubble.
I know we all wanted “Black Panther” to work. So deep in our souls, we yearned for a film that spoke to our truth and that gave us a road map to black empowerment. But as the last scene of the movie after the credits suggests – the sequel to Wakanda only promises us “Avengers: Infinity War” – a disastrous universe where super powerful heroes battle to save the white man’s rule over the world and everything in it.
Like this, Wakanda misses the mark big time. While it tries to save the day, African nobility comes at the cost of vanquishing its Black American equivalent. Even the brilliant scene where King T’Challa’s sister returns to Oakland to teach black youth math and science, it is swiftly followed by her guiding of a white Tarzan through the villages of her country. Seeped in untruths, “Black Panther” heaps upon us a miserable world of black disunity, and a world where black enterprise is ultimately waged to benefit whites, and silence the voice of the slave.
In the end, “Black Panther” left me with a soft pride that didn’t last past the credits, and yet another blatant mis-writing of my black future.
So my question now is, how many times are we going to let Hollywood get away with crippling our movement?
How long will we let the hunter tell the tale of the lion’s courage?